Tuesday, 28 September 2010
It was David Mitchell’s first novel, and is similar both in structure and theme to Cloud Atlas. As with Cloud Atlas there is no real central story, as the novel is comprised of nine very different, but all slightly interconnected stories. Starting and finishing with Quasar, a member of the Japanese apocalyptic cult that gassed the Tokyo Subway, this story is concerned with his retreat from Tokyo once the attacks are carried out. From there we move to a love story between two youngsters, a British banker in Hong Kong who is involved in some dodgy deals that are all about be uncovered, his girlfriend has left him and his apartment is haunted, a souls progression through various hosts in search of a particular story he can remember, art theft and the Russian mafia, a ghost writers life and loves, a quantum physicists refusal to co-operate with her American employers in creating new and more deadly weapons, and finally a new York late night radio show and the host’s annual conversation with some apparently cognitive artificial intelligence.
The individual stories themselves are fascinating enough. We seem to move throughout the twentieth/twenty-first century and in all of them the sense of place and atmosphere is created quickly and seemingly effortlessly. Mitchell tackles so many theme in this book it is possible to identify them all but there is a definite emphasis on modernisation, commercialisation and so called progression, usually with a negative slant.
But the stories themselves don’t make the novel. It is the interconnectedness of the individual stories that makes the whole thing complete. Characters from the various stories turn up, both characters we’ve already read about, and ones that we have yet to meet. I did find there was always a slight jolt when moving from one section to the next, but that didn’t last long and the scene setting was so well done, with numerous ‘ah ha’ moments when previous events or characters were referenced, that the whole concept came together very quickly.
It’s difficult to say much about how this interconnectedness is so important without giving away too much of the conclusion of this book (if it could be said to be that), but there are definite ideas of interconnectedness, chance and fate running throughout this book. How much of what happens in our lives is because of random meetings and events, and how much is destined to happen to us anyway. A lot of the meetings and crossed paths in this book seem to be total chance (one of the characters even plays in a band called ‘The Music of Chance’), but one memorable quote from the book for me was
"We're all ghostwriters, my boy. And it's not just our memories. Our actions, too. We all think we're in control of our own lives, but really they're pre-ghostwritten by forces around us."
This book is full of little gems like that, but unfortunately that was the only one I noted down before returning this book to the library!
And just as a point of interest, and definitely another one of those ‘Aha’ moments, there are characters named Luisa Rey and Timothy Cavendish in this book (from Cloud Atlas), and one of the characters has a birth mark shaped like a comet! There may well be other references I didn’t pick up on, but they were the ones I spotted.